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Program provides connection between seniors, students

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February 15, 2011

By Eileen Connelly, OSU

ARCHDIOCESE — In her work as a nursing home administrator Laura Lamb has witnessed firsthand how society fails to value its elders.

In response, Lamb, the parent of a student at Nativity School in Pleasant Ridge and vice president for Episcopal Retirement Homes, which operates the Deupree House and Marjorie P. Lee communities in Cincinnati, has established the Council for Life Long Engagement (CLLE).

Her goal, explained Lamb, is to enhance the perception of the purpose and value of elders, counteracting the negative impacts of ageism.  CLLE accomplishes this by encouraging and enabling elders to share their knowledge and talents with school children to change how they view the older generation.

“I take this so personally because I’ve dedicated my life to it,” Lamb said, noting that the seniors she has come to know through her ministry, “have loved me, mentored me and nurtured me. They’ve been through things I haven’t. They are wise and have so many experiences to share.”

“I want to change this generation coming up and how they perceive elders,” Lamb added. “The real benefit to this will be that the people I just adore will get their self-esteem, value and purpose back that society has taken away from them.”

To pilot the program, Lamb approached Bob Herring, principal of Nativity School, where her son, Jacob, is in the fourth grade. Herring embraced the concept as the chance for students to “learn from the wisdom and experience” of the seniors.

Since September, more than 35 residents of Deupree House and Marjorie P. Lee have visited Nativity, either doing individual presentations to various grade levels or taking part in a Jan. 10 career fair geared toward students in the fourth through sixth grades.

Sessions so far have covered topics such as space travel, the Civil War and life in colonial America. The residents receive training in advance of their presentations on logistics, modern classroom etiquette and what to expect, Lamb said, while teachers are prepped in order to ensure both the seniors and children have a positive experience.

Dottie Cowan speaks to class at Nativity school.
Dottie Cowan discusses life in colonial American with Nativity students.

In December speakers enhanced the math lessons of Nativity fifth graders through their presentations as they shared its importance in careers and every day life. Julius Dean, for example, discussed the need for precise mathematical calculations in his profession of installing heavy vault doors, using schematics that fascinated the students. Sue Pontius demonstrated the necessity of proper measurements when cooking and baking, enabling the students to enjoy a double batch of chocolate chip cookies. Lamb believes experiences such as this will help other subjects, such as history and science, also come alive for students.

At the career day in January, the children rotated through various sessions as speakers discussed their experiences in professions ranging from architecture to occupational therapy and carpentry to psychology.

Jack Fix discussed his lifelong interest in art, including painting and wood sculpture, with students and brought along a number of his works to share with them. “I wanted to show them some of the small things I’ve done over the years in the art field and help them see that there are simple things they can create with their hands,” he said. “My hope was to show them that there is something exciting they can do without have a cell phone stuck in their ear or playing some computer game that doesn’t inspire much creativity.”

“I really had fun interacting with the kids and received thank–you notes from them saying how much they enjoyed what I told them,” he said.
The program is proving to be mutually beneficial for the seniors and the students.

“Our residents feel valued, like they have a purpose,” Lamb said. “This is providing them with something to look forward to, something to sharpen their minds. They’re able to give to others.”

For the students, said Herring, “It’s a chance to learn about the seniors’ life experiences, the challenges they’ve faced and their life decisions. We all have a contribution to make and a story to tell. Young people tend to think that the elderly are past their prime, but this is really helping the students realize how much we can learn from them.”

A second career day is planned at Nativity in May, Lamb said. She has heard from other area schools, both Catholic and public, that are interested in replicating the program and is hopeful that it will also expand to include additional retirement facilities, both locally and across the country.


Eileen Connelly, OSU can be reached at: [email protected].

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